Image Courtesy of BSA
I still remember fumbling through my purse, searching frantically for my badge. With only 10 minutes until 9 a.m., I still needed to walk through security and find my way to my office. Finally, I found it and, after security checks, I walked through the doors and up a set of rust-colored stairs. This was my normal path into the East Wing as an intern for the White House in the Office of the First Lady. I landed the internship through Pepperdine’s Washington D.C. abroad program. For the entire spring semester of 2015, I would be working on the First Lady’s Reach Higher Initiative, promoting post-secondary education to students across the United States.
That particular day, I was scrolling through my emails at my desk when the door to the First Lady’s private office opened. With grace and poise, she walked right out, her assistant following closely behind her. Believe it or not, after a few months on the job, you never get used to sights of First Lady Michelle Obama. Someone who has lead our country in tackling childhood obesity, advocating for post-secondary education and serving as a champion for our veterans. Not to mention she has graced the cover of Vogue and danced with Ellen DeGeneres.
After seeing the First Lady pass by, I heard a familiar voice, laughter to be exact. Then he walked out, smiled and said, “Hey everybody.” It was him — The President. He stood in front of the mirror, less than three feet away from my desk, and said, “I heard working for my wife is tough. She gives you all a hard time.”
Before I could even think about my words, I blurted out, “No, not at all, Mr. President. It’s a pleasure to work for her.”
As he adjusted his dark blue tie, he chuckled and said, “Yeah right. You don’t have to say that. I already know how it is.” And just like that, he was gone.
Days like that and the memories I experienced at the White House will last a lifetime. Regardless of political preferences and ideologies, there is no denying the value that the Obamas brought during their eight years as our First Family. For many African Americans, the Obamas stood as a symbol of hope and achievement. If they could rise to the top from the Southside of Chicago, so can we. “Yes We Can” achieve our wildest dreams and bring about the change we want to see in the world.
The policies he implemented gave the Black community the assistance and support that we need. He introduced the initiative My Brother’s Keeper, which according to the White House’s website, focusses on linking young black men to positive influences and bridge the opportunity gap between young black and white men. The Affordable Care Act caused the uninsured rates of Blacks to drop by 9.5 percentage points, according to Stephanie Marken’s research published April 7, 2016 by Gallup.
The Obamas possess extraordinary intelligence and grace, which, when matched with brilliant candor and a sense of humor, make them so real. Over the last eight years, the President and First Lady were not distant strangers or abstract objects but instead became family members. Auntie Michelle and Uncle Barack opened up the doors and turned the White House into the people’s house, even making room for soul train lines and the electric slide.
At 21 years old, I still cannot fully wrap my mind around the fact that I, Rahje Branch, a Black girl only 5ft tall, had the opportunity to work in the White House and serve our country for the first Black president. I remember being in middle school and watching the inauguration, thinking, “This is so cool.” Little did I know, I would travel to Washington D.C. and work with some of the movers and shakers of our world.
While the Obamas may be leaving the White House, their leadership will forever remain in the hearts of so many of us around the world. Though I may be uncertain of the times ahead, I am reminded that if two girls from the Southside of Chicago and from the South end of Los Angeles could make it into the White House, then there is hope for the country.
Bria Dunlap contributed to the policy research for this piece.
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